The Biden administration on Wednesday turned up the volume on strains in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, as the defense secretary acknowledged publicly that President Biden’s decision to hold up delivery of heavy bombs was linked to Israel’s plans for a large offensive in the city of Rafah, in the Gaza Strip.

Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told a Senate committee that the United States had been clear “from the very beginning that Israel shouldn’t launch a major attack into Rafah without accounting for and protecting the civilians that are in that battle space, and again, as we have assessed the situation, we have paused one shipment of high payload munitions.”

While the president and other administration officials have publicly criticized the Israeli conduct of the war for months, it has often been in muted terms, saving the harshest assessment for private conversations. Mr. Austin’s comments on Wednesday were the bluntest public statement to date that the disagreement carries consequences and a signal of the kind of leverage the United States can use to influence Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza.

The United States and other allies have warned that an all-out assault in Rafah could lead to a humanitarian disaster for hundreds of thousands of displaced Gazans living in tents and temporary lodgings there. On Monday, Israeli tanks and troops made an incursion to take control of the border crossing into Egypt.

With the scale and timing of their plans still unknown, Israeli officials have downplayed any dispute with the United States over weaponry and the war in Gaza, while also continuing to negotiate on a potential cease-fire that could lead to the return of Israeli hostages taken during the Hamas-led attack in October.

Palestinian children receiving food at a charity kitchen in Rafah, southern Gaza, on Wednesday.Credit…Hatem Khaled/Reuters

Experts on the U.S.-Israeli relationship say the pause in delivering the munitions, which the White House confirmed on Tuesday, showed that the alliance had hit a significant divide, with more ruptures possibly to come amid declining American public support for the Israeli war effort.

“It’s pent-up frustration on Biden’s part, which eventually broke,” Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, said on Wednesday. “The administration has been walking a tightrope between its very strong support for Israel and domestic pressure.”

This week in particular, two opposing elements of President Biden’s approach to military support for Israel are converging and competing for global attention.

With his approval of fresh U.S. aid involving weapons and equipment worth $827 million — along with an assertive speech against antisemitism at a Holocaust remembrance service — President Biden has made clear that he remains deeply committed to Israel.

At the same time, he has signaled that there are limits to American aid and patience, suspending delivery of the heaviest of munitions — 1,800 2,000-pound and 1,700 500-pound bombs — over concerns they will be used in a possible full-scale assault on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at a hearing room as Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III testifies before the Senate committee in Washington on Wednesday.Credit…Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

In public comments, Israeli officials have mostly promoted America’s long-term support and ignored the pause in deliveries of weapons.

Speaking at a conference Tuesday night hosted by a local newspaper, the military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, described coordination between Israel and the United States as reaching “a scope without precedent,” while insisting that any disagreements were handled “behind closed doors.”

Sidestepping questions about the airing of American frustrations and the potential risk to future arms shipments, he stressed the importance of day-to-day coordination and “operational assistance.”

Israel has a large arsenal to draw on and many options for how to proceed in Gaza that would not necessarily include the bombs Washington has delayed, military analysts said.

Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli diplomat, said that the U.S. decision was motivated by skyrocketing American frustration with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as pressure from some Congressional Democrats to more closely supervise Israel’s use of U.S. arms. And, he added, it was an attempt to warn Israel that more consequences could be in the offing.

“The logic behind this is a warning: If you don’t get your act together, there’s a lot more obstructions that could happen,” Mr. Pinkas said.

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

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